Investigation: How Russia's Warplanes Get Their 'Brain Power' From The West, Despite Sanctions (2024)

KYIV – Major Japanese, U.S., and Taiwanese companies rank among the Top 5 manufacturers on a list of more than 2,000 electronic components that Ukraine says Russia has used in five types of warplanes it has deployed in its full-scale invasion, Schemes, the investigative unit of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, has found.

Though the imports did not come directly from these manufacturers, they underline the vulnerabilities of the sanctions Western countries have imposed on Russia – a recurring complaint for Kyiv as, handicapped by a deficit of weapons and ammunition, it watches Russian forces advance, hammering soldiers, civilians, and vital infrastructure.

Ukraine has emphasized that stopping the import of such sanctioned dual-use products is crucial for Ukraine’s defense against Russia. In an April 14 speech, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy remarked that “it is not opinions that curb the production of missiles and drones for terror.”

Investigation: How Russia's Warplanes Get Their 'Brain Power' From The West, Despite Sanctions (1)

Schemes obtained a list of 2,000 electronic components that, according to Ukrainian intelligence, Russia used in five types of Sukhoi warplanes that were involved in attacks on Ukraine between the start of the full-scale invasion in February 2022 and the end of 2023.

Using the list and publicly accessible import data, Schemes tracked two intermediary companies in European Union countries -- Cyprus and Hungary – that shipped electronic components to Russian defense contractors involved in the manufacture of the Sukhoi jets that deliver those missiles.

Investigation: How Russia's Warplanes Get Their 'Brain Power' From The West, Despite Sanctions (2)

The list, provided by a Ukrainian intelligence source who monitors Russian military contractors' imports, identifies electronic components used for the “brains” of five Sukhoi jet models that Russia uses regularly in attacks on Ukraine – the Su-27SM3, Su-30SM, Su-34, Su-35S, and Su-57.

The parts facilitate the Russian planes’ navigation and guidance systems for these missiles and bombs, as well as their radio-electronic warfare with Ukrainian forces and communications with their control centers.

As an example, Valeriy Romanenko, a senior research associate at Kyiv’s Ukrainian State Aviation Museum, cited radar that can simultaneously track and target dozens of sites more than 300 kilometers away, while monitoring the aircraft’s location relative to enemy planes and anti-aircraft defenses.

These systems, “built mostly with Western-made electronics, allow the Russians to inflict significant losses on us,” Romanenko said.

The Top Five

Schemes reviewed the list along with the Independent Anti-Corruption Commission (NAKO), a Kyiv nonprofit that monitors corruption in Ukraine’s national security sphere.

According to Schemes’ calculations, Japan’s Murata, known for its radio and filters technology, manufactured the highest number of components used by Russia in the aircraft – 218 out of the more than 2,000 listed products. Russian customs data analyzed by NAKO indicates that Russian imports of Murata products from third parties increased by 38 percent in 2022, to $8.5 million, and reached $9.6 million in 2023.

SEE ALSO:Kyrgyz, Kazakh Companies Send Western Tech To Firms Linked To Kremlin War Machine

U.S.-based Texas Instruments ranked second, with 176 items. RFE/RL reported in June 2023 that Russia regularly imports products from TI and another U.S. Firm, Analog Devices, via Kazakh and Kyrgyz companies.

U.S.-based Analog Devices and its subsidiary Maxim Integrated ranked third and fifth, with 163 and 60 items, respectively. Products from the Taiwanese-owned, U.S.-based company Kemet were the fourth most numerous import, at 71, according to Schemes’ analysis of the list.

The list also contains European companies as well as other U.S. and Japanese electronics and semiconductor manufacturers.

The imports were not direct purchases from the manufacturers, but, as data from the online international-trade database Import Genius showed, sales by third parties to Russian buyers.

Schemes contacted Murata, Texas Instruments (TI), Analog Devices, Kemet, and Maxim Integrated for comment. As of the date of publication of this article, only TI had replied.

A TI spokesperson e-mailed on April 30 that the company “strongly opposes the use of our chips in Russian military equipment and the illicit diversion of our products to Russia.”

“Any shipments of TI chips into Russia are illicit and unauthorized,” the TI spokesperson added.

“We require our distributors and customers to comply with export control laws and take action if we learn that they do not, up to and including termination,” said the spokesperson, who did not provide a name.

Two other manufacturers also have condemned sales of their products to Russia.

In an undated statement on its website, Murata said that its policy is to comply with “export control laws and all regulations of each country where Murata operates.“ It asks customers outside of Japan to ensure the company’s products are not used for weapons of mass destruction, including missiles, as well as “conventional weapons, or items specifically designed for them.”

In a statement to Bloomberg News in December 2023, Analog Devices (ADI) said that “[a]ny post-sanctions shipment into these regions is a direct violation of our policy and the result of an unauthorized resale or diversion of ADI products.”

But the manufacture of Sukhoi warplanes continues. On April 5, for instance, the sanctioned, state-owned Russian defense industry conglomerate Rostec announced the delivery of an unspecified number of Su-34 “frontline bombers,” described as “an important part of the attack power of Russian frontline aviation.”

SEE ALSO:How A Russian Fighter-Jet Manufacturer Continued To Import Western Aviation Parts Despite Sanctions

Examining Russian customs data, RFE/RL's Russian investigative unit, Systema, found that aviation parts worth more than $8 million were imported to Russia from the start of 2022 until July 2023. The main recipient of those parts was Yakovlev, a maker of Sukhoi aircraft.

How Russia Gets What It Needs

Schemes and NAKO’s joint analysis of Russian import data from Import Genius, an online international trade-tracking database, revealed several companies in countries including China and Turkey that exported electronic components to Russia between February 2022 and July 2023 that match the items included on Ukrainian intelligence’s list.

Schemes took a closer look at two of the companies registered in the European Union, which prohibits the evasion of sanctions against Russia but leaves enforcement to its 27 member states.

Noratec Holdings, owned by Latvian citizen Vladimirs Boreckis, is registered in Cyprus, the recent focus of an international journalistic investigation into sanctions dodging. Matrix Metal Group, where Boreckis serves as managing director and is the sole listed shareholder, is registered in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government is a critic of EU sanctions against Russia.

Between 2021 and 2023, the two companies routinely shipped foreign electronic components made by the companies on Ukrainian intelligence’s list to a private Russian firm called Eksiton.

Founded in the Moscow suburb of Ramenskoye in June 2022, four months into the full-scale invasion, Eksiton describes itself in business registries as a wholesaler in “industrial electrical equipment, machinery, apparatus, and materials.”

Evidence indicates it is connected to the manufacture of Sukhoi warplanes.

The man Russian government registries identify as Eksiton’s majority owner, Yury Korchevsky, was, until 2015, the co-owner of a company, also named Eksiton, located in the western Russian city of Smolensk.

This second Eksiton, according to a Russian business registry, supplies Yakovlev, the Sukhoi manufacturer formerly known as Irkut.

Investigation: How Russia's Warplanes Get Their 'Brain Power' From The West, Despite Sanctions (6)

It also provides products for two key Yakovlev suppliers -- the Central Design Bureau of Automation and the Ural Optical and Mechanical Plant -- as well as other companies owned by Rostec.

The Smolensk Eksiton also owns another Smolensk-based Russian military contractor that has been sanctioned by Ukraine, Display Component, to which Noratec and Matrix Metal Group regularly shipped electronic components in 2021 and 2021-2023, respectively.

According to Russian business registries, before the 2022 campaign against Ukraine, Display Component supplied electronics to a private Russian research institute, Ekran (Screen), that develops planes and helicopters’ anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems.

The Smolensk Eksiton’s website is no longer accessible, but an archived version of the site mentions that the company has received “awards and letters of thanks” from the Russian Defense Ministry for its contribution to “the common cause of the country’s defense.”

Consequences

TI told RFE/RL that it “conducted a thorough, internal review” for records of sales to Eksiton, Matrix Metal Group, and Noratec Holdings and “can confirm we have not sold any products to those companies since we stopped sales to Russia in February 2022.”

Schemes e-mailed Boreckis about the evidence of sanctioned shipments of dual-use electronic components to Russia by Noratec and Matrix Metal Group but did not receive a response.

In his LinkedIn profile, removed after the Schemes report was published in Ukrainian on April 17, Boreckis described himself as a “forward-thinking business accelerator” with a background in financial technology. The profile, which Schemes archived, stated that he is fluent in Russian and English and resides in the United Kingdom.

Neither Noratec nor Matrix Metal Group has been sanctioned for exports of electronic components to Russia.

On April 12, the European Council, which sets the EU’s policy priorities, adopted a law that imposes criminal liability on individuals and companies or organizations for violating trade sanctions against Russia. Aside from other measures, individuals could face a prison term of at least five years, while companies could be shut down.

Under a regulation adopted in December 2023, EU-registered companies must insert a “No Russia” clause into their contracts when trading with non-EU partners in goods, including “advanced technology,” that have military applications.

Enforcement, however, depends on EU member states.

Ahia Zahrebelska, who tracks sanctions policies for Ukraine’s National Agency on Corruption Prevention, believes that stricter EU measures against sanctions evasion will not dissuade Russia.

Even if “one company that was useful to Russia” is sanctioned, she said, Russia can “immediately” create “10 new shell companies that will perform the same tasks.”

Nonetheless, enforced sanctions affect “the delivery time” and potentially the quality of Russia’s military equipment, NAKO senior researcher Viktoria Vyshnivska emphasized.

“[S]ome Chinese company created a week ago does not have the capabilities of a technological giant” whose products Russia can no longer use, Vyshnivska said.

Written by Elizabeth Owen based on reporting by Kyrylo Ovsyaniy of Schemes
Investigation: How Russia's Warplanes Get Their 'Brain Power' From The West, Despite Sanctions (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Francesca Jacobs Ret

Last Updated:

Views: 6065

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (68 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Francesca Jacobs Ret

Birthday: 1996-12-09

Address: Apt. 141 1406 Mitch Summit, New Teganshire, UT 82655-0699

Phone: +2296092334654

Job: Technology Architect

Hobby: Snowboarding, Scouting, Foreign language learning, Dowsing, Baton twirling, Sculpting, Cabaret

Introduction: My name is Francesca Jacobs Ret, I am a innocent, super, beautiful, charming, lucky, gentle, clever person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.